As the winds blew across the land, sweeping hither and thither from Vendyha to the Barachan Isles, another wind stirred restlessly. The wind of fate blew about Ophir and Aquilonia and finally found its mark in strange Nemedia, where a shadow slept.

Katarus awoke the next morning with a sense of urgency about him. His actions, always steady and cat like, were rushed and less fluid. Beside him slept beautiful Anura, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Katarus slipped on his clothes and moved to the door, looking back at the woman one last time.

Her milky white flesh was wound about the sheets as she slept, her golden locks spilling out over the pillow while her jasmine tinted lips smiled in slumber. The shadow sighed and briskly left, the air calming in his wake.

A large black awaited his master as he left the home of the young woman and the two strode through the streets towards a house on the far side of the city. Katarus slowed suddenly, putting a hand to the black s chest and scanning the street without indication of cause.

Iguame, we are being watched. he whispered, resting a hand lightly on the hilt of the curved blade he kept on his hip. The black nodded, cracking his massive knuckles and readjusting his huge flabby frame beneath his simple leather strap armor.

The two continued their walk for some time, Iguame loping along behind the smaller Katarus who whipped his head from side to side, looking to the rooftops and to the beggars. The two strange figures finally reached their destination but at the front door stood a man with a smirk on his face. He was dressed well with a soldier s cloak and a long blade.

Katarus, I wondered when you would arrive. he sang as the two approached.

Mannal, you dog. Why have you come? spat Katarus, his eyes surveying the man for any hint of weakness.

Simple. You never paid me the sum from our last excursion. Would you like me to report to my superiors how I was offered a bribe to look the other way? Excluding the part where I accepted of course. grinned the man.

I have not sold the jewels yet, Mannal. I have no money to give. Now leave me be! growled the thief.

Disappointing, I shall be back. Watch your pet there, he looks angry. shrugged the guard, brushing past the two and gesturing to the black with disdain.

Katarus watched him go, shaking his head in frustration and unlocked the door to his home. A warm smell of spice and fabric washed over him as he took a step in, letting his blade fall on a nearby cushioned bench. Iguame had to stoop to get through the door, as he was truly giant, but squeezed in quickly. He barred the door behind him and left to a back room where he would prepare a breakfast for his master.

Watching him go, Katarus mused to himself on the origins of the behemoth. He had bought Igaume years ago in an Ophirian slave market. He had been sold as a blacksmith and did not speak a word to Katarus for a month after being bought. Through a silver tongue and a few gifts, the Nemedian finally loosened his tongue. He found that his smithy slave was in fact a great warrior in his native lands, a fact Katarus made great use of.

Time had seen the two grow close over the years as they traveled from one city to the next. In the Nemedian burned a fire, a lust for a never attainable goal. Greed fueled him in ways even he was not aware. No matter the cache he found, it would never be enough. He eternally strove for enough to slake his thirst, a hoard he would never find.

He was suddenly broken from his reverie by a loud clamor coming from outside. He peered through a slit in the doorway and found two beggars outside quarreling. Their filthy rags flung mud about as they flailed and warbled angrily.

Groaning, Katarus opened the door and stepped out. The two stopped immediately, looked to him, then went back to their argument. Stepping to within arm s reach of them, Katarus opened his mouth to speak but was stopped as the inconsistencies fell into place.

Time seemed to slow around him as his innate reflexes and perception were boosted by a sudden adrenaline rush. He looked down to see the slight weigh to one beggar s sleeve. He saw the fighting stance of the other and realized it was directed at him. He saw the scar above the eye of the first, and knew at once that it had been treated with skill, a service no beggar could afford.

Before the first blade could be drawn, he had already dropped to one knee and struck out with his suede booted foot. It struck the knee of one man, sending him falling to the ground. Spinning on his toes, Katarus swerved to avoid an unarmed blow from the other, and drew forth a silver blade from his girdle.

He saw the jab come and parried, sweeping the dagger away from his body as he stepped closer to the man, sinking blade into belly with a sickening sound. He twisted it and watched the contortions of his victim s face. Drawing it out and spinning it in his hand, he brought it in a slice which severed the man s throat.

A sharp pain threw him forward suddenly and already he felt the hot blood flow from a small wound in his back. He spun and found the second man upright with a foot long knife running at him. He sidestepped, spun, and cut the hamstrings of the man without a second thought. He was about to lunge forward and finish him when a small hatchet flew by him, a hair s breadth from his face and embedded itself in the back of the downed assassin.

Katarus smiled to himself, sheathed his blade and turned. Igaume stood facing him in the doorway, a second hatchet already in his throwing hand and a sick grin spread across his broad face. A throaty warble of a laugh erupted from his throat as his massive belly shook. Katarus could not help but chuckle to himself as he dragged the two bodies out of the street and into the entry way.

Do something with these two. I don t doubt you can find a solution. he barked to the black and walked to his study. He was then acutely aware of the small knife wound in his back. It had barely broken through the skin, but he felt the blood flowing freely.

Undressing, he rummaged through a chest of drawers and found a silk sash which he tied around his chest and back tightly to stem the flow of blood. He barely got done tying the knot when he realized something was amiss.

His hands began to shake as he inspected them, a look of primal horror spreading over his handsome face. His jaw began to quiver, causing his elaborately beaded goatee to swing and flail. On his right ring finger, a line of pale flesh showed where a ring had been for many a year.

Throwing himself about the room, he began to shriek and throw books, cushions, and all manner of objects around as if he were a child deprived of a treat. Igaume appeared again, cocking his head to one side and blinking in curiosity.

She stole it! That heathen bitch! Whore of a thousand men! I shall gut her and feed her to a hound! cried Katarus as he thrust his naked hand at Igaume s face. The black stumbled back, unsure of what to make of this and gestured to a massive and primitive axe that hung on the wall.

No no, I do this alone. A thing like this... requires... finesse. explained Katarus, already donning a new shirt and boots suited more towards combat that impressing young mistresses. His shoulder length hair spilled over his face for a moment, obscuring his vision. When he looked up, the black was gone.

Perhaps things would have gone differently had he thought anything of this, but he did not. Igaume lumbered back to the kitchen and passed through it to the small quarters he called his own. A simple burlap bed took up most of the room to accommodate his bulk. He lifted one end easily and beneath the leg he had hollowed out, lay the missing ring.

He picked it up in his meaty hands and sat on the bed, stroking it with a massive finger. The same sick grin splayed out over his face, showing his filed teeth. He gingerly placed it in a pouch on his belt and tapped his foot excitedly. After twelves years of slavery, after six years of gaining his master s trust, and after nine months of planning, he would finally be free.

As night stole across the sky, two figures stole across the streets, their fates intersecting in ways they could not know. Katarus went to his mistress home to seek revenge, Igaume went to an old seer and sorceress home to seek freedom. The gods watched with baited breath. Fate smiled.

(Author s note: I refer to Igaume as a black in a way that some readers might find to be offensive or racist. My description of him is something almost animalistic or bestial, something less than human. Let me explain myself. Robert E. Howard lived in a time where African Americans were considered barely more than slaves and as such his writing reflects that. His good friend H.P. Lovecraft was certainly was we today would call a racist, and Howard possibly was too. Simply put, Howard s depiction of African s was demeaning, but true to common Caucasian views. I do not share those views, but I wished to make this as close to Howard s writing as possible, so Igaume was kept true to Howard s descriptions of his people. Thank you for understanding.)